The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

November 22, 2023

Book Recommendations by John Mark Hicks

I have been doing a lot of reading in this area for years and much more recently. In fact, the first week in October I finished the definitive history of the October 1974 war between Israel and Egypt in the south, and between Syria and Israel in the north. The book was Abraham Rabinovich, The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East (Penguin Random House, 2017).

If you have an additional suggestions, as this is certainly not an exhaustive list or even necessarily the best books on the topic, feel free to add another or more in the comments.

 General Historical Introduction up to 2019.

Dov Waxman, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What Everyone Needs to Know (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). Intentionally balanced and as about as objective as one can achieve.

Scholarly History of Palestine up to 2022.

Ilan Pappe, A History of Modern Palestine, 3rd edition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2022). Engages scholarly literature, details the history of Palestine, critiques both Palestinian and Israeli narratives, and provides critical assessment of key historical events and peacemaking attempts.

Contemporary Reflection on “Land” in Current Theological/Political Context.

Walter Brueggemann, Chosen? Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015). Drawing on both Israeli and Palestinian peace advocates, he critiques both “promised land” ideology and violence in the land, particularly focused on the militarization of the state of Israel. He discourages the use of the Bible as a direct support for the state of Israel and their inheritance as belonging to that state “forever.”

From the Jewish Perspective.

Yossi Klein Halevi, Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor (San Francisco: Harper, 2018). This Israeli author uses personal experience, history, and ethnic identity to describe what it is like to live in Israel. Often empathizing with Palestinians, he defends the need for a morally responsible and democratic state as a Jewish homeland in the Middle East.

Palestinian Perspective on Reading the Bible.

Mirei Raheb, Faith in the Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014). If you want to understand how Palestinian Christians see the conflict in the light of the Bible, this is probably the best book. He seeks peace from the conflict.

History of Zionist Settlement in Palestine.

Rashid Khalidi, Hundred Year’s War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017 (Picador Paper, 2021). Written from a Palestinian perspective, this book tells the story of Zionist settlement enabled by 20th century Western empires. It recognizes the mistakes by both Palestinians and Jewish settlers. It is a dispute about land, not religion or ethnicity.

Biblical Theology of Land in the Light of Jesus.

  1. Gary M. Burge, Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010). He denies that Christian Zionism is consistent with New Testament biblical theology. The promises that belong to Abraham belong to all those who trust in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus.
  2. O. Palmer Robertson, Israel of God: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2000).  He argues that Abrahamic promise is fulfilled through the Messiah in the Church, who is the Israel of God (Gentiles grafted into Israel), and, consequently, the state of Israel has no perpetual claim to the land they inhabit.
  3. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, eds., The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014). Multi-author work which covers the major concerns of those who propose Israel still has a future in the land, perhaps including the state of Israel, and, at the same time, seeking peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Union with Christ: The Central Soteriological Claim

June 1, 2023

I have now read the sixth of twelve books suggested by FB friends. This one was recommended by Clayton Homewood.  This is my summary.

Marcus Peter Johnson, One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

Salvation, according to historic Christianity, is our personal union with the living Christ, our inclusion in the person of Christ. “Christ is our salvation,” and “our union with the living Christ is,” Johnson writes, “what it means to be saved.” Johnson provides a solid and helpful defense of this approach to soteriology. Historically, this is not a new position, of course. Early patristic writers stand in this tradition along with Calvin, and I affirm it myself.

“The mysterious reality of our union with Jesus Christ,” he writes, “by which he dwells in us and we in him, is so utterly essential to the gospel that to obscure it inevitably leads to the obscuring of the gospel itself.” This obfuscation happens when, among other things, one (1) identifies the “benefits” of Christ’s work as abstract or forensic (“depersonalized”) gifts, (2) understands salvation individualistically, and (3) divorces soteriology from the church and its sacraments. This corrective emphasizes a personal, organic, and participatory soteriology that understands any legal or forensic aspects of salvation as secondary, an effect of union with Christ.

The personal mutual indwelling of the living Son in us and we in the Son is the source of a healthy understanding of the meaning of salvation. This mystical union is the source of all the benefits God shares with us through the living Christ. This mystery is inexplicable, but it is a reality we apprehend and describe through the story of God in Christ and we also experience in the power of the Spirit. In other words, Johnson has much in common with the Eastern Orthodox notion of theosis (participating in the life of God) which is also part of Catholic and Protestant traditions in some authors (e.g., Thomas Aquinas, Calvin, etc.).

After defining union with Christ and its role in the history of theology, Johnson interprets the meaning of justification, sanctification, adoption, preservation, and glorification through this lens. These are inseparable benefits and gifts that come to us, he argues, because we are united with Christ.

At this point, I offer one caution. The book’s subtitle should perhaps read “Reformed” (i.e., Calvinist) rather than “Evangelical” (i.e., which would include non-Reformed theologians and believers). He mostly cites Reformed sources, though he occasionally utilizes authors from other traditions. His interpretation of the various dimensions of salvation are consistently Reformed. Indeed, Johnson represents a healthy form of Reformed theology that corrects some of the distortions of Reformed theology often found in contemporary advocates of Calvinism. In this way, he follows—for example—Torrance more than Piper or Grudem.

I think the major contribution of the book is not only reorienting evangelical (particularly Reformed) theology toward union with Christ as the central claim about salvation but also his incorporation of church and sacrament in this understanding of union with Christ. “Salvation is a communal reality,” and there is a sense in which there is no salvation outside of the church because we are all joined to each other through our union with Christ. This community celebrates and participates in this union through the sacraments, including the preaching of gospel and enactment of the gospel through baptism and the Lord’s supper.

In the two chapters on church and sacraments, Johnson provides a healthy and bold return to early Reformed (especially Calvin) tenets. Because the church actually participates in the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and glorified Christ, it is the body of Christ. This is no figure of speech but an actual mystical union with Christ. It is no simile but real. He writes, since “it is an actual union with the incarnate person of Christ, who has a body—then we have reason to” affirm that “Paul’s body language is similarly realistic,” that is, it explains or points to a “reality.” The church is ”truly and actually” the body of Christ.

The importance of this point should not be undervalued. Cyril of Alexandria reminds us of its significance (quoted by Johnson): “So it is that the church is body of Christ, and we are its members. For since we are all united to Christ through this sacred body having received that one indivisible body into our own, our members are not our own but his.” The nature of our unity in the body is mystical because it is through our union with Christ. While the church continually seeks to embody that unity in visible forms, it often fails because we still live in the present age. Nevertheless, we are already united in Christ even as the church continually seeks communal sanctification. As disciples of Jesus, we seek to express this real mystical union with Christ and each other through visible and concrete means, though the process of sanctification continues and thus the visible unity is often flawed in its expression.

Union with Christ also entails that the sacraments have a realistic meaning. Water, bread, and wine “refer to, and bring us to participate in, the reality to which they point, namely, Jesus Christ.” In other words, the sacraments are not bare or empty signs but effective signs that provide a means of grace by which we participate in the reality of Christ himself. Thus, “God employs visible, created, physical means to save us and bless us,” and this is true only because Christ is the foundational sacrament (incarnated in the flesh) and the Spirit effectively uses creation to distribute grace. Thus, as Johnson writes, “Christ is the sacramental presence of God mediated to us (through faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit) in Word and sacrament.” This is a renewal of historic Reformed (in the Calvin tradition rather than the Zwingli one) understanding of the sacraments. Alexander Campbell himself was an heir of this Calvinian tradition (he even approvingly quotes Calvin on baptism, for example; cf. “Calvin on Baptism,” Millennial Harbinger 4 [November 1833], 543-47, ending the article with this statement: “We leave it to the good sense of the reader, whether John Calvin ought not to be called a Campbellite as well as the Apostle Peter”). Indeed, in the visible church and its sacraments, we concretely and visibly participate in Christ through our union wit Christ.

This particular summary near the end of the book provides a helpful perspective which permeates this book:  “The union [with Christ] does not exist merely in our minds or wills, it is not merely a legal or moral union, and neither is it a mere mental assent to the saving word of Christ in the past. It is, rather, a union with the present, living Lord Jesus Christ in the fullness of his saving person, and it occurs through (without being reduced to) faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit. This means, of course, that in order to save us, Christ must have been really, personally present to us. He, in his own person, gathered us into himself so that we might enjoy all the benefits he secured for us.”

Two New Books (April, 2023) on Men and Women

April 14, 2023

One book advocates a soft complementarian reading of Scripture and the other an egalitarian reading of Scripture. The general editor of the former is Renèe Webb Sproles. It is entitled Male & Female: A Biblical Look at Gender (published by The author of the other is Philip B. Payne. It is entitled The Bible vs. Biblical Womanhood: How God’s Word Consistently Affirms Gender Equality (published by Zondervan). Sproles is the Director of Cultural Engagement for Payne is Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary Northwest.

Male & Female is more comprehensive in purpose than Payne’s book. Sproles had previously written a compact book entitled On Gender. The new book expands that brief work, though it is not dependent on it or intended as an update or revision of it. With this book, Sproles edits an anthology that addresses questions of gender identity, cultural movements (like LGBTQ+), and transgenderism as well as the common questions related to the husband/wife in the home and male/female in the church. As the general editor, Sproles authors several chapters but is most often in dialogue with others. Her editorship manages the contributions of a dozen or so people. It is a multi-author work, but focused on the importance of gender identity, gender differences, and gender roles within the biblical story. This cannot, Sproles writes, be left to the “category of opinion” because “[w]hat Scripture says about creation, sin, and salvation point to very important secondary truths that were once taken for granted” (p. 17).

In essence, as I read it, the book is an exposition and defense of the Renew Network’s “formal statement on gender” which seeks a path between  “ineffective traditionalism” and “culturally dominated progressivism” (p. 26). Renew’s statement on gender is provided twice in the book, once at the beginning (p. 27) and once at the end (p. 339). This inclusio confirms the book’s main interest to defend, explain, and elaborate Renew’s self-styled “soft complementarian” position.

We believe both men and women were created by God to equally reflect, in gendered ways, the nature and character of God in the world. In marriage, husbands and wives are to submit to one another, yet there are gender-specific expressions: husbands model themselves in relationship with their wives after Jesus’s sacrificial love for the church; and wives model themselves in relationship with their husbands after the church’s willingness to follow Jesus. In the church, men and women serve as partners in the use of their gifts in ministry, while seeking to uphold New Testament norms, which teach that the lead teacher/preacher role in the gathered church and the elder/overseer role are for qualified men. The vision of the Bible is an equal partnership of men and women in creation, in marriage, in salvation, in the gifts of the Spirit and in the mission of the church but exercised in ways that honor gender as described in the Bible.

Payne focuses on the differences between evangelical complementarianism and evangelical egalitarianism as he walks through the various biblical texts as an exegete and theological interpreter. Payne, who has authored numerous books, academic journal articles, and blogs on this topic, offers this book as an exegetical journey for a general audience. He intends to “explain how the text of Scripture itself affirms gender equality” (p. xiv). This book, he says, “simplifies [his] 511-page book on this topic, Man and Woman, One in Christ (p. xv).

Payne finds these three ultimate emphases in the biblical story (p. xiii):

  • the Holy Spirit gifts all believers for ministry
  • the oneness of the body of Christ (the church) and the priesthood of all believers
  • the humility, service, and mutual submission required of all believers

Male & Female

Sproles’ Male & Female expands a series of blog posts Renew published in 2021. You can see a list of those posts that interacted with my own book as well as my responses to each blog at this page. You can see all of Renew’s blogs “On Gender and the Bible” here. My blog responses contain my critique of Renew’s soft complementarianism. I will not repeat those points here; interested readers can read the blogs for themselves. The original blog posts often interacted with my book Women Serving God.However, this published edition of the blogs, while sometimes explicitly interacting with my book, do not focus there. Rather, the essays seek to make a case for their understanding through an exposition of Scripture without sustained explicit dialogue with an interlocutor or opposing viewpoints.

The one exception to the above characterization is the book’s chapter on 1 Timothy 2:8-15. The book, like the blog, is heavily focused on my own work on 1 Timothy 2 in Women Serving God. I was disappointed to discover the book essentially reproduced the original blog without directly interacting with my response to Renew’s blog (for an hour-long oral presentation of my view of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, click here), though the book expands the blog in some respects (more is said on 1 Timothy 2:15, for example). The book repeats the same mischaracterizations and misdirections that I corrected in my blog, and it does not acknowledge the many points of agreement between Renew and myself about this text which I emphasized in my blog. Readers can judge for themselves without me repeating the points here. I would direct readers to a couple other blogs on 1 Timothy 2:8-15 that would more fully explain my critique of soft complementarian interpretations of that text, raise questions about its difficulty (including its complicated nature), and specifically 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

I will, however, offer two examples of the sort of mishandling of what I wrote by the Renew blog and reproduced in this book. For example, Dr. Richard Oster suggests if the problematic women in Ephesus were idolaters, Paul would have spoken to them like he does idolaters in his Corinthian letters. He also thinks I have depicted them rather harshly as “the most sinister, evil women in the Ephesian church” (p. 135). Paul would not, Rick says, “be so kind to the women in 1 Timothy who . . . are participants in idolatry, sexual immorality, and (pagan) mythology” (p. 129). In response, Paul is talking to Timothy and it is unnecessary to use the rhetoric in Corinthians to make his point as a persuasive technique. But, more importantly, Paul tells us that “some [of these women] have already strayed after Satan” (1 Timothy 5:15). That sounds pretty serious to me.

Another example is the claim that I make “much of [the Artemis] cult in interpreting 1 Timothy 2:8-15” (p. 127). Actually, I only suggest an Artemis background as a possible historical reconstruction. I do not depend on it. My understanding is that Paul is dealing with deceived women, but I don’t know what the exact background to that deception is. It could have something to do with Artemis in terms of their dress, habits, and function in the worship of Artemis. I don’t know. For example, I write (p. 177) that “These women, deceived by false teachers, needed to learn and submit to the gospel rather than promote pagan myths and practices learned from the Artemis temple, Greco-Roman cults, and/or proto-Gnostic teachers.” I’m non-commital to the backdrop or historical reconstruction (I offer three suggestions in the italics above) because we simply can’t know what that is. But we do know some women were deceived as they are imitating Eve who was deceived. Though the book (and blog) quote a paragraph from my book as evidence of my Artemis projection, the previous paragraph had other suggestions, and the paragraph quoted simply uses Artemis as an example. It does not claim this is the fact. Perhaps I did not communicate that very well, but that was my intent based on the research of Hoag (you can see something of his claims here). Moreover, the assessment that 1 Timothy 2:12 is not a universal, timeless rule does not depend on which historical reconstruction is the correct one. Rather, the letter itself provides the evidence of false teaching, women captured by such teaching, and women promoting such teaching by words and actions.

Those are only two examples. If you read my blog response to Renew’s original blog, you will see other examples and my responses.

Male & Female includes those original blogs (or a version of them) with the addition of some other essays (a total of 16 chapters) with a concluding summary by Sproles and Bobby Harrington (essentially the last blog in the series at on “Gender and the Bible”). The additional essays are devoted to the cultural environment and issues surrounding gender identity and sexual morality. Some first appeared in some form on Renew’s blog.

The structure of the book places the discussion of complementarianism and egalitarianism in the framework of the culture war over gender identity and sexual morality. This sets up the appearance (perhaps the claim?) that a move toward egalitarianism regarding marriage and the church is a move toward (perhaps even logical entailment?) the embrace of cultural movements like LGBTQ+ and transgenderism.

While I think it is important and valuable to talk about those movements, I don’t think they are at the heart of the disagreement between complementarianism and egalitarianism. Nor is the hermeneutic the same among those committed to biblical theology. Consequently, that mix functions more like a red herring in relation to the complementarian-egalitarian discussion. It is mixing oranges and apples.

Male & Female affirms a form of gender essentialism where the differences between male and female entail different roles or functions in the home and church. I understand why gender identity is part of the point in this book on the topic of male and female and why it is important to address those questions. It intends to be comprehensive in terms of a theology of gender. Those topics need to be addressed, and it makes sense that the comprehensiveness intended by this book would address them. It appears to me that Renew is suggesting egalitarianism leads to the embrace of transgender ideology because egalitarianism represents a departure from and a breakdown of biblical gender differentiation. However, I don’t see the deep connection between those questions and the evangelical discussion between complementarians and egalitarians.

After reading the book, I am concerned that the kind of gender essentialism advocated in this book is problematic and has unintended consequences. It so strongly speaks of male authority, men taking on the function/role of Jesus, and women submitting to men like the church submits to Jesus that it is ultimately a hard complementarianism that allows women to speak in some spaces (including the assembly) as long as they are bounded by the male authority structure of lead teacher/preacher or elder/overseer. The “soft” dimension depends on where one draws the line for women speaking or not speaking, teaching or not teaching, what gifts they can use and where they can use them.

This version of complementarianism has the same problem all complementarians face (whether “hard or soft”). Where does one draw the line of authority as a boundary in terms of the practice of the church and home? Having grown up in congregations that practiced a hard complementarianism, we still had those debates (may a women teach an adult Bible class, may a women teach baptized twelve year old males, may girls pick up attendance cards, etc.). As the book notes, not all Renew Network churches have the same understanding of where that line lies. Some permit a women to preach in the gathered assembly while others reject this and only allow women in the “pulpit” for special topics or expertise as long as they are interviewed or accompanied by the lead minister or an elder (p. 141). Male authority in Male & Female must bound or give permission for the exercise of gifts by women in the assembly. And then some gifts (like teaching) are not permitted in the assembly at all, especially what moderns call “preaching.”

I do, however, appreciate the strong emphasis on transcending traditional practices that exclude women as well as the emphasis on mutual submission in marriage (even though the man is the authority figure in the relationship). I appreciate the call for husbands to be like Jesus and love their wives the way Jesus loved the church. I appreciate the call for a Jesus-like servant leadership. There is much to honor in this regard from the authors in Male & Female. Nevertheless, the sense that men are Jesus in their homes, and women are the followers of their husband’s authority creates, it seems to me, a problematic application of Ephesians 5 that lays the groundwork (unintended, to be sure) for abusive authoritarianism in marriage (and the church by extension).


If you have read Payne’s major work Man and Woman, One in Christ, there are only a few surprises in this new, popular version of his academic work. One significant development is the chapter where he argues that Titus 2:1-8 addresses church elders, including women. The word presbytidas in Titus 3:2 is the word used to forbid the appointment of women officers (female elders) at the Council of Laodicea in 363-364 C.E. Canon 11 says, “Presbytides, as they are called, or female presidents, are not to be appointed in the Church.” I think this is a helpful chapter.

While I am not convinced by his advocacy that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is an interpolation by an ancient scribe who moved a marginal notation into the text at an early period, he does offer some interesting evidence in a couple of appendices. They are worth consideration and should not be ignored. He also continues his advocacy of hair as the covering in 1 Corinthians rather than some kind of external covering. He may be right, though I am unconvinced. Nevertheless, the context he offers is important: hair—whether up or down, covered or uncovered—was a strong emotive cultural fixture in the Greco-Roman world. Uncovered hair or let-down hair signaled sexual availability (thus, married women were covered) or at least was broadly understood in that way. I think 1 Corinthians 11 and the covering (whatever it is) is about sexual propriety rather than male authority.

Payne concludes with “ten biblical principles that entail gender equality”:

  • male and female are equally created in God’s image
  • male and female equally received the creation mandate and blessing
  • redeemed men and women are equally “in Christ”
  • church leadership as service
  • mutual submission in the church and home
  • the oneness of the body of Christ
  • the priesthood of all believers
  • the Spirit gifts all believers
  • liberty in Christ
  • in Christ, male and female are equal

I recommend Payne’s work, with a few caveats, as a good popular presentation of his academic work. It deserves a careful reading as coming from an accomplished scholar who has written about this topic for decades and has engaged his critics at every turn.

My sympathies lie with Payne, though I have never called myself an egalitarian. Yet, fairness—at least in my context—demands that I read both. And I have.

Two books. Tolle Lege! Caveat Lector!

Tillard’s Flesh of the Church, Flesh of Christ: A Book Summary

March 30, 2023

J. M. R. Tillard, Flesh of the Church, Flesh of Christ: At the Source the Ecclesiology of Communion, trans. Madeleine Beaumount (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2001).

I have now read the fourth of twelve books suggested by FB friends. This one was recommended by Reece LaBlanc. This is my summary; and this one is very difficult to briefly summarize for my FB friends. This book is no gentle flow down the stream; it is a torrent rapid of theological engagement through Scripture, historical theology, and theological reflection.

This book is not for the theologically faint-of-heart. It is a thoroughgoing theological reflection on the centrality of the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) as the sacramental event that constitutes, at its most basic level, the church as church. It is a theological case for the conviction that the Eucharist is no mere addendum to the Christian life and community but is very spiritual reality into which we are grafted. The flesh of Christ and the flesh of the Church are united, and the Eucharist is not only an expression of that union but the source of the reality of the communion.

As I said, this is not exercise in the beginning or even intermediate theology. Rather, through reading Augustine carefully as a foundational thinker for the West and reading Cyril of Alexandria and John Chrysostom as theologians for the East, Tillard finds a common theme, though sometimes abandoned in the West and in danger of being jettisoned in the West (even in the Roman Catholic Church). When the Eucharist is displaced as an enriching but dispensable practice (as has happened among many Protestant traditions in the West), Tillard argues we substitute the ecclesiology of communion for individualistic experiences of relationship with Jesus. Ultimately, the church—lacking its primary expression of communion itself—becomes as irrelevant and dispensable as the Eucharist. “Where is the communion?,” Tillard asks.

For Tillard, and the patristic writers he unpacks, communion is not a byproduct of individual relationships with God as God has collected all the individuals into a general fold bound together by cords of good feelings toward each other and a common subjective faith in God.  Rather, communion is the reality of the union of the flesh of Christ with the flesh of the Church—it is the mystical union of Christ and the Church in the Spirit. The Eucharist—where we receive the body and blood of the Lord—connects us to our own embodied lives in the midst of the gathered church (flesh and blood, concrete people). Shared Eucharist is shared communion, but not in a mere cognitive sense but in a deeply mystical and relational sense such that we commune with God and with each other.

The church is not, Tillard argues, the “sum or the juxtaposition of ‘justified’ individuals.” Nor can we reduce the church “a vast system of human solidarity.” On the contrary, the union is not mere solidarity, or justification (our sins are forgiven as individuals), or assembly in the same building. It is, in fact, the reality effected by the Spirit that unites the flesh of Christ and the flesh of the Church. Ecclesiology (the very nature of the church) is a Spiritual reality expressed and resourced by the concrete eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ. It is communion; it is concretely experienced at the Eucharist table. This communion is “the knot” that ties everything together by the Spirit who unites God and humanity in Christ.

So, the enfleshed community (the concrete, visible church), through the Spirit and in Christ, communes with the transcendent, holy God and Father who has embraced humanity in its poverty. The flesh of Christ did not live for itself but for the sake of others, and the Eucharist in which we participate calls us (indeed, forms us and constitutes us) as people who will also sacrifice ourselves in agape love. The Eucharist is both a constitutive moment whereby we experience this profound union and, at the same time, a moment where we are formed by the work of the Spirit to become bread for the world, sacrificially giving ourselves for each other and the world just as Christ gave himself for us.

The church is supposed to be community of unceasing mutual love. As we dwell in the love of God through the Eucharist, so the Eucharist fills us with love so that we might become the reality in which we participate. The mutual indwelling experience in the Eucharist renews the mission of the church as “the healing of the body of wounded humanity.” The Eucharist not only testifies to this and renews it, but it is most fundamentally union with God in the flesh of Christ by the Spirit of God. The Eucharist, then, is a concrete source of life for the community that constitutes the community in the Spirit through the flesh of Christ.

Tillard is pushing against the dangers of Western emphases on individualism as well as reducing the meaning of assembly to listening to the word preached.  The West tends “to see the church as a society of baptized persons held together by obedience to the word, rather than as the communion united by the eucharistic body.” While the East has always been faithful to this vision of the Eucharist, the West has struggled to maintain it. According to Tillard and the East, there is “an unbreakable bond between church, Holy Spirit, and Eucharist.”

The nature of the communion that “defines the church” is this union between enfleshed members of the body of Christ communion (participating, sharing in) the flesh of Christ by the Spirit of God. In this we, we are one in the Spirit as a church, and the church experiences, renews, and instantiates this union most profoundly and concretely when at the Eucharist together. This, indeed, is a liberating moment as the grace of Christ’s own sacrifice frees us from our own selfishness so that we might become Christ to the world itself. And we do this not as individuals but as the body of Christ—a community in communion with God through Christ in the Spirit.

Perhaps, at bottom, the point is that ecclesiology is not fundamentally about voluntary congregationalism or loose bonds of shared commitments (even creeds). Rather, it is a profound union of the flesh of the church with the flesh of Christ in the Spirit through God’s gift of the Eucharist. It is a relational ontology—a participation, a mutual indwelling, a shared life—made possible by the flesh of Christ. It is not so much about how we, who are members of the body, make unity a reality but rather how the Spirit has united the flesh of the church with the flesh of Christ as a gift of God. And the Eucharist embodies that union—with God in Christ by the Spirit and with each other. That constitutes the communion of the church.

Thomas Fleming’s “Disease in the Public Mind”

March 2, 2023

I opened myself to the challenge of reading 12 books in 2023 chosen by my Facebook friends. One friend suggested Thomas Fleming’s “A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War”. This is the third of twelve—I’m shooting for one a month.

The title comes from James Buchanan, the fifteenth President of the United States (1857-1861). As Civil War “loomed on the horizon,” he called it—on several occasions—the result of “an incurable disease in the public mind.” The public, influenced by media, extreme politicians, and leading influencers, had been infected to such an extent that polarized and antagonist views had been absorbed by the general public. This disease was the result of hostile, polarizing, and bigoted public discourse.

Fleming argues that radical abolitionists on the one hand and radical enslavers on the other used the long history of antagonism and suspicion between New England the deep South to acerbate and poison political discourse within the nation. The radical abolitionists used those prejudices to demonize enslavers in the worst possible light, and the most extreme abolitionists employed violence (for example, John Brown). Radical enslavers defended enslavement of Africans on the ground of their inferiority, white supremacy (this country was made for white people), and their own sense of benevolence (something like, we are helping black people by civilizing and christianizing them).

These two poles, riding on the waves of North-South economic, social, and political sectionalism, drove the nation into a Civil War that cost it close to one million deaths (that is, one out of every 31 people died in the 1860s from this War or its effects).

This disease in the public mind, which hindered or prevented civil discourse and potential political solutions that might have led to freedom for enslaved people, carries significant weight. A disease infected the public mind because of polarizing rants and discourse designed to engender hate and ultimately violence.

Southerners feared a race war, and thus it was best to keep Africans enslaved. The South had witnessed the liberation of slaves in the West Indies by Britain and heard the horror stories of massacres in the islands. This fear drove southern polarization.

Northerners feared the extension of slavery into the territories, and literature (like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) stoked hatred for slavery by casting it in the worst possible light. Northern hatred of southern slavery led to violence as seemingly the only solution to the problem.

Fleming suggests that this polarization and its fears left no space for a gradual elimination of slavery in the South as had happened in New England and the Middle States (Pennsylvania, New York, etc.) as well as in other countries around the world. The United States was one of the few nations that fought a civil war to end slavery. Ultimately, there were only two choices: the continuance of slavery or war.

Fleming seems to lay most of the blame on radical abolitionists, and he describes southern enslavers in a more understanding light than typical. It comes across as if the abolitionists were irrational, filled with hate, and would not listen to reason while southerners were not given a fair chance to seek other solutions. The North, Fleming suggests, pushed the nation into war when southerners were not receptive to abolitionists demands to abolish slavery immediately.

This is not a “new understanding,” despite the title of the book. While it has merit in many respects, I don’t find it fully convincing. The hero of his book is Abraham Lincoln who, Fleming argues, hoped for a gradualism that would eliminate slavery through compensated emancipation even though he believed the institution was evil. Lincoln sought compromise but fought a war to save the union by which enslaved peoples were liberated.

I think Fleming underplays the evil and reality of enslaved peoples. He treats it with almost a soft hand though he calls it deplorable. I also am not so sure gradualism was really an option for the future of the country—perhaps 100 years later maybe. The Civil Rights movement in the 1960s as well as the history of Reconstruction and Jim Crow in the South suggest the bigotries and animus toward black people was not going to disappear through gradualism. When the war ended slavery, other forms of slavery arose, including Jim Crow laws, sharecropping, redlining, and even now mass incarceration. Was there any real hope that gradualism would work? It was voted down, for example, during constitutional conventions in antebellum Tennessee and Virginia (border states that resisted secession until Lincoln called up 75,000 volunteer troops in response to the formation and actions of the Confederacy).

Nevertheless, I think the notion that a “disease in the public mind” is an excellent point. It is a complicated situation with lots of intersecting hostility, suspicion, and hatred between sections of the United States. Fleming’s book is worth reading, and while he offers lots of helpful perspectives to moderate some perspectives, I don’t think he offers a comprehensive understanding but illuminates one of the complicating factors that led to Civil War.

Though published ten years ago, it speaks to our contemporary situation. Hostile, polarizing, and bigoted discourse—a few calling for national divorce, succession, or even violence—characterize our present political and cultural situation.  The public mind is poisoned by social media influencers, radical politicians, and extreme media.

As a disciple of Jesus, I invite us to practice love, prayer, and acts of kindness for our enemies as we also bear witness to the truths embedded in the Christian narrative.

You are free to comment (though I will delete offensive or extraneous comments), but I have no interest in arguing for or against Fleming’s thesis in the comments. Be kind and share your ideas (if you wish) with love and in a mutual search for understanding.

Forgive by Tim Keller

January 2, 2023

I accepted the challenge to read 12 books suggested by my friends on Facebook.

I have read the first of 12 books recommended by Facebook friends. The first was recommended by Bruce Bates: Tim Keller, *Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I*. This is my brief summary.

At bottom, we ought to forgive because God has forgiven us in Christ, and we pursue forgiveness by letting go of the right to revenge (whether physical, emotional, or relational vindictiveness such as ill will) as a form of voluntary suffering that imitates Jesus. Forgiveness is costly.

Forgiveness requires a sense of spiritual poverty or humility as in “there but for the grace of God go I.” It also requires a sense of spiritual wealth and assurance in the grace of God. To know the grace of God means the love of God flows through us toward others.

The pursuit of forgiveness, however, neither diminishes the harm done nor fails to name that harm. The authentic act of forgiveness names the evil, speaks the truth, and honors what is right. This may hinder reconciliation because it demands the offender own the evil done rather than excusing it and continuing in it.

Keller stresses that divine forgiveness is the payment of our debt through the penal substitution of Christ (though I don’t think penal substitution is necessarily an essential point–but the cross is). It is undeserved. It is free. But it is costly to the giver of this forgiveness. This is the *vertical* dimension of forgiveness: we are forgiven by God. This forgiveness is the resource out of which we forgive.

The second dimension of forgiveness is *internal*. By the power of the Spirit (Keller could have been more emphatic about the Spirit though the point is there), we are enabled to deal with feelings of personal vengeance, unbounded rage, and personal vendettas (including cutting words, gossip, etc.). Forgiven, we internally let go of hatred, rage, and payback. When God’s forgiveness is experienced deep in our hearts, we are enabled to move through our feelings—though the process is difficult and painful—toward a forgiveness that takes our hands off the other person’s throat.

The third dimension is *horizontal*. Since we have been forgiven by God and our hearts begin to experience divine healing, we don’t give up the goal of a reconciled and restored relationship. Sometimes it is not possible because there is an unwillingness to name the evil, repent of it, and change behaviors. Reconciliation is not cheap.

However, reconciliation is not necessary to experience the vertical and internal dimensions of forgiveness. We can experience healing without reconciliation, but reconciliation is nevertheless an important part of walking in love toward others, including our enemies.

I recommend this book. It is accessible and theologically credible. It addresses numerous aspects of a complicated, messy, and problematic topic. It will help you think through, practice, and embrace forgiveness as a major Christian virtue (including self-forgiveness as well as the forgiveness of others).

Searching for the Pattern: Kyle Spears Interviews John Mark Hicks

September 6, 2022

Kyle Spears introduces the interview with this description: Is there a New Testament blueprint that marks who the true church is? Is there a pattern of New Testament culture that we are to imitate or is there more to the story? Every congregation wants to align themselves with the New Testament examples seen in scripture, but have we missed the story of God in the process? John Mark Hicks is a notable scholar in the Restoration Movement and joins the discussion as we discuss his book “Searching for the Pattern”.

Response to the Review of Women Serving God in the Christian Chronicle (July, 2021)

June 27, 2021

I thank Renée Sproles for taking the time and energy to write a brief notice of my recent book Women Serving God. Her review appeared in the July 2021 issue of the Christian Chronicle. I appreciate her attentive effort to summarize and raise questions about it. I welcome such engagement.

I appreciate Renée’s sensitivity to the difficulties of a “no participation” (traditional) view. She recognizes that the restrictions found in many traditional churches are inconsistent with New Testament practices, and those practices have been personally frustrating to her. I share her commitment to a “way of doing church that honors God and embraces revealed freedoms.”

Many other women have found traditional practices frustrating as well. Women Serving God contains essays by Claire Davidson Frederick, Jantrice Johnson, Lauren Smelser White, and Bethany Joy Moore. They not only offer their own theological perspectives but share their own stories about growing up in churches of Christ.

At the same time, I think there are some insufficiently nuanced statements in the review. I do recognize an economy of words was necessary for such a brief piece where she intends to fairly express what insights the book has as well as her dissatisfaction with its conclusion. Understandably, she abbreviates points in order to meet the word limit she was given. Her task was a difficult one as brevity always is. I have more space in my blog response than she did in her published article. That, I hope, tempers my own remarks.

Nevertheless, I take this opportunity to respond to a few points, though neither her review nor my response can substitute for reading the book as well as her book entitled On Gender or the dialogue between Renew and myself through multiple blogs.

I will begin with her final paragraph. Her final question is: “what would our churches look like if we submitted to God’s revealed Word, taking advantage of our freedoms, and submitting to its boundaries?” I answer: it would look great!

I affirm the question and its sentiment. That is the purpose of my book: to identify the freedoms and boundaries in order to submit to the teaching of God’s word. I fear her question might insinuate that I am not interested in that agenda, but I trust Sproles recognizes that I, too, seek the same goal.

She is exactly correct that much of the problem lies within us as we presuppose certain perspectives about gender or patriarchy. That is why I wrote the book. I want to submit to God’s word just as much as Sproles does. We share this common interest and goal.

We both recognize that commands and instructions are embedded in occasional documents that address culturally situated contexts. For example, the command to greet one another with a holy kiss–a command that occurs more often than any seeming restrictions of women in the biblical text–is culturally embedded. This does not mean that culturally embedded commands are inherently relative. Rather, the commands address the readers in those contexts because they arose from a theology grounded in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. They are not simply cultural, though they are articulated within a culture. They are expressions of theological values rooted in God’s own life and identity, and they reveal the will of God. We read Scripture in order to listen to God’s voice and learn God’s will. The question is: how do we identify those values and apply them in our contemporary contexts? The search is not for “nuggets” (I never use that word in my book) but a pattern of divine activity that calls us to participate in the mission of God.

Paul says, “man is the head of woman.” I affirm that. The question is, what does Paul mean? What is the meaning of his metaphorical use of “head”? Whatever it means, Paul affirms women who pray and prophesy in the assembly as long as their own heads are covered. I offer a brief opinion as to what Paul might mean (which should not be reduced to a simple “source” understanding, though that is shorthand for a range of perspectives), but I neither stress it nor make an argument based on the meaning of “head.” This is not a major concern of mine in this book because whatever headship means, it does not delimit woman from audibly and visibly participating in the assembly, according to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Sproles and I agree that Paul authorizes women to audibly and visibly pray and prophesy in the worshipping assemblies of Corinth.

It is perplexing that Sproles believes the restrictive texts are more facil than difficult given the history of their interpretation. Indeed, the “limited participation” view has a wide diversity within its own advocates. Some believe women may lead worship (or singing), prayer, read Scripture, offer testimonies in a worshipping assembly, share the pulpit with a male leader in the assembly, or offer communion talks from the pulpit as well as teach Bible classes that include men. Others oppose some, if not most, of these practices. Sproles affirms some kind of “limited participation” perspective, though I am not sure where she draws the line on some of these practices. She does believe only men are to do the authoritative teaching in the assembly (and in other spaces?).

Ironically, the defense and practice of “limited participation” only emerged with any significance in the 19th century (by the earliest women itinerant preachers, in fact), and the interpretations of the restrictive texts that permitted this were not widely promoted until the late 20th century (particularly through authors like Grudem, Piper, and the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood). The interpretations offered for “limited participation” are new interpretations. They are neither ancient nor traditional. In other words, few understood these texts as permitting “limited participation” in a worshipping assembly until the last 150 years or so. Perhaps outside pressures influenced and moved people to create a new interpretation that is now called “soft complementarianism.” That highlights the difficulty in understanding these texts, whether or not limited participation is correct. I don’t think, however, the “limited participation” view is the best understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12.

These texts, particularly 1 Timothy 2:12, have been used to forbid women from voting in political elections, teaching in higher education, sitting on boards, voting in church business meetings, teaching eleven year old baptized males, teaching the Bible to any men under any circumstance, leading their husbands in prayer, baptizing men, eight year old girls from addressing a group of several men (including their fathers), pre-adolescent girls from picking up attendance cards, making announcements, or offering testimonies in the assembly, etc. I could continue this list if I wanted to use the space (some lists have over 100 items). Such applications indicate these texts have never been simple. The interpretations have been widely debated over the last 100 years unless one wants to return to a “no participation” view where, historically, women were not even permitted to sing in public worshipping assemblies during most of the Medieval period.

1 Timothy 2:8-15 is a difficult text. 1 Timothy 2:12 has at least twelve different possible interpretations, and Paul’s rationale in 1 Timothy 2:13-15 has at least six different possible interpretations. Even Renew’s article on 1 Timothy characterizes their understanding of the text as one which “likely means that women should not be in a teaching role” (my emphasis). “Likely” reflects some uncertainty or at least credible doubt, and this accentuates its difficulty.

Sproles asks, “How can Galatians 3:28…be a seed text to overturn male-female distinctions in the worship since Paul, who proudly co-ministered with women, writes to Timothy in a later letter affirming gender distinctions, even grounding them in creation order?” In response, I would say, because 1 Timothy 2 does not mean what Sproles thinks it means, and Paul is not grounding his thought in a hierarchical creation order. I answer her question in the book. One may not agree with my interpretation, but the answer to Sproles’s question is fairly straightforward: Paul does not mean what Sproles thinks he means.

Moreover, I never describe Galatians 3:28 as a “seed text” as my own view, though I did use it once in reference to a broad view of “full participation” when outlining three major positions at the beginning of the book. For myself and in my argument, however, I do not claim Galatians 3:28 is a seed text. Rather, it is consistent with Paul’s theology throughout his writings and applied to varied situations. Paul calls women to fully utilize their gifts within the assembly and the church, which expresses their status as co-heirs with men, just as the enslaved are called to fully utilize their gifts as co-heirs with free peoples with the faith community.

If Genesis 1 teaches a shared vocation and identity, and Genesis 2 teaches complementarity with differentiation without hierarchy, then servant leadership is mutual. Paul affirms this mutuality rather than excluding women from participation in the assembly (1 Corinthians 11:11-12). Godly male leadership is present across the testaments and so is godly female leadership (Miriam led the congregation in worship, Deborah judged Israel, Huldah proclaimed the word of the Lord to the king’s representatives and the High Priest, and Esther instituted a new festival and commanded Israel to keep it).

I do appreciate that one can read my book and be left unsatisfied. I understand that. I do not expect everyone to agree. Everyone will have to do their own assessment after reading the book for themselves.

I wrote the book to begin a discussion. One of its first fruits has been the dialogue between myself and Renew. I think it has been a healthy discussion, and I invite everyone to read it.

Thanks for your review, Renée. I appreciate your commitment to the word of God and your desire to submit to it.

May God give disciples of Jesus peace, wisdom, and discernment.

Response to Gardner’s Review of Women Serving God

October 1, 2020

I am grateful for Steve Gardner’s 7000 word review of my book, Women Serving God. I appreciate the careful reading and attention he has given to it. This response is almost 3500 words.

Steve himself, as readers of his blog Authentic Theology know, has devoted significant biblical and historical attention to the question my book addresses. His blogs also address larger considerations related to this topic that I don’t address in my book. I encourage everyone to read his blog.

My book is intended for leaders, ministers, and elders among churches of Christ. Steve recognizes this, though he thinks parts of it might be useful in an academic setting and perhaps overly technical for some readers in my target audience. He is probably right. I attempted to communicate without too many textbook technicalities. Nevertheless, some technical details demand attention.

Thank you, Steve, for the helpful summary of the book and its strengths.

The majority of Steve’s review is focused on weaknesses in the book. Every book has weaknesses; mine is no exception. He identifies three weaknesses in two paragraphs (#words) and then focuses on what he considers the book’s major weakness for ten printed pages (#words).

The first weakness is what appears to be an implication that “changing’s one hermeneutic is needed to reach a conclusion of ‘full participation’.” That critique makes sense to me, though it is not the nature of my own journey. Can one come to a full participation perspective through a blueprint hermeneutic? I think they can. If one understands 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15 the way I suggest in the book, potentially one can still hold a blueprint hermeneutic and affirm full participation. Perhaps I should have made that clearer. In fact, my book, hermeneutically, is much more exegetical than theological.

At the same time, there are some expectations and processes embedded in the blueprint hermeneutic (as I have described it in Searching for the Pattern as well as in Women Serving God) that create unnecessary (though perhaps not insurmountable) hindrances to the full participation of women in the assembly. For example, the search for a specific authorization for assembly practices rather than a theology of giftedness may entail the exclusion of women even if 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 are understood as I have argued in the book. The blueprint hermeneutic expects that God has fully regulated the assembly, and where we lack examples, commands, and necessary inferences to specifically and explicitly identify a practice, it is–as I note below–safer to exclude rather than include.

The second weakness is that I did not “meaningfully address centuries-long” interpretations that demeaned women as ontologically inferior, uniquely blameworthy for the human condition, and inherently weak and unfit for public leadership. That is fair. I did not focus on these points. I did, however, identify some of these perspectives when I wrote about Lipscomb, Harding, Sewell, and Bell or the church’s opposition to suffrage and the “New Woman Movement.” My narrow focus on my own journey and how the history of churches of Christ illuminated that for me did not push me to call attention to this larger story.

I acknowledge Steve’s point. This larger story needs to come into play when one fully and systematically assesses gender in the history of churches of Christ. My third volume will address this point. I will locate the exclusion of women from leadership in the larger story of Christian tradition, especially as I address more specifically and more fully the question of “male headship.” I recognize the legitimacy of Steve’s point.

The third weakness is my use of “giftedness” in lieu of “calling.” I don’t find this compelling because I see “giftedness” as assuming a call to use one’s gifts. Moreover, I did not emphasize the “calling” dimension because I focused on specific language in Scripture related to the exercise of gifts, God giving gifts, etc. My intended audience is best addressed, in my estimation, with the biblical language of gifting rather than calling. However, I acknowledge “calling” as a legitimate and important dimension of the discussion. As Steve noted, my responders in the book appealed to “calling” more than I did, though they also spoke of giftedness as an important aspect of their own stories.

The primary weakness Steve identifies is my historical interpretation of the participation of women in assemblies of Restoration Movement congregations in the mid-19th century. Steve spends ten pages (#words) responding to two pages in my book (pp. 48-49; about 700 words).

My purpose in sharing this historical perspective was to lay some brief groundwork about the 1830s-1880s (pp. 48-49) for the major discussion of the 1880s-1930s (pp. 50-62). The claim that the audible and visible participation of women in some assemblies was not “uncommon” and was part of “many” congregations is not a claim that it was dominant or the majority. Rather, it is a recognition that such participation was not totally excluded from the experience of churches in that period and it was not rare. “Some” would have probably been better than “many” in my claim. “Many” may leave the impression that it was far more common than I actually think it was, though how widespread particular practices were is ultimately unknown (perhaps even inaccessible to contemporary historians).

I think the evidence I provide sufficiently demonstrates my basic claim, but perhaps I should have provided more evidence and greater detail. However, considerations of space and the relatively minor function this section played in my book did not merit a fuller treatment for my purposes.

While Steve thinks my assessment is not consistent with Bill Grasham’s outstanding article in the 1999 Restoration Quarterly, I think the two are complementary and essentially agree. He has details I don’t have and vice versa. The reader can decide for himself. Here is a link to Grasham’s piece. His opening sentence is: “There has never been a completely uniform view of the role of women in the work and worship of the church in the Restoration Movement, and this was particularly true in America at the turn of the 19th century.” By the mid-20th century, churches of Christ did establish a broad uniformity: women were totally excluded from audible and visible leadership in the assembly.

I understand Steve’s concern is that (1) I may have conflated churches of Christ and the Christian Church with some of the sources I used, and (2) if my reading of the evidence is skewed, as he claims, then the larger problem is I fail to acknowledge how indebted churches of Christ are to the historic traditions of the Christian faith regarding women. These are two legitimate concerns.

On the first, I was careful in my section on the 1880s-1930s to use sources who were associated with churches of Christ and the conservative regions of the Restoration Movement. For example, Daniel Sommerwho defended the privilege of limited participation in the assembly—was, according to Leroy Garrett, in some sense the founder of churches of Christ through the Sand Creek 1889 Address and Declaration. The Christian Leader & Way, which was conservative-leaning (James A. Harding was co-editor), published many articles defending the limited participation of women (see some citations here). Moreover, Benjamin Franklin was a conservative leader in the Restoration Movement, the spiritual ancestor of Daniel Sommer. Earl West’s biography of Franklin, Elder Benjamin Franklin: The Eye of the Storm, demonstrates this. Certainly Franklin believed that women should not participate in assemblies gathered for official business and decision-making, but he defended their participation in limited ways through prayer and exhortation. Both Sommer and Franklin, along with others in their tradition among churches of Christ, advocate a wider expression of female voices than typical among churches of Christ in the 1940s-1950s.

Nevertheless, Steve’s point is important to consider, and if my narration conflates the practices of the churches of Christ with the Christian Church (as that distinction emerged in the 1900-1920s), then it needs revision. However, I was careful to pay attention to such, and I don’t think I did conflate them. Nevertheless, I am could have overlooked something in my sources and interpretation. It bears checking.

On the second concern, it is important to remember that revivalism in the 18th and 19th centuries included female exhorters and a wider participation of women within assemblies and in what came to be called “camp meetings.” This became even more the case in the Holiness Movement in the second half of the 19th century. The revivalist tradition included women in ways that was not true of earlier Christian traditions. This influenced some in the Restoration Movement, and this may account for some of the diversity present in the 19th and early 20th centuries (even in what we know as churches of Christ).

I appreciate the detailed attention Steve gives to my evidence on pages 48-49. I welcome his engagement here, and it was helpful as a fuller record. He addresses Faurot in the Millennial Harbinger, Benjamin Franklin from his American Christian Review, Krutsinger in the Gospel Advocate (accessible in the Gospel Advocate here) Charlotte Fanning (her biography by Emma Page [p. 16] and William Anderson’s [p. 370] comment in Franklin College and Its Influences), and Lipscomb in the 1876 Gospel Advocate. I don’t find the critique of Faurot, Franklin (as I mentioned above), Fanning, and Krutsinger compelling, but Steve does have a point, I believe, about Lipscomb.

Concerning Faurot, my point is the one Steve makes. Faurot only knows of “two churches outside of Bethany that completely prohibit women from all acts of worship, including exhortation and singing.” In other words, women typically participated in the assemblies and two congregations (that Faurot knew) completely silenced women. In other words, while women were silenced in Bethany (not totally, however, due to congregational singing), they were not silenced in most other congregations in Faurot’s experience.

Tolbert Fanning preached, and Charlotte Fanning led singing. Their summer vacations from teaching school were used to conduct Gospel meetings or revival meetings throughout the Mid-South, especially in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. Page, writing in 1909, called it leading singing and paralleled it with Tolbert’s preaching. In the chapel of Franklin College, Charlotte “led singing” sitting down, to be sure (at least in Anderson’s memory ). That form of participation, however, is out of sync with most churches of Christ today as sitting praise teams are discouraged or forbidden in most congregations, in part, because they include women.

Clearly, Lipscomb and Harding disagreed with Krutsinger. I made that point in the ensuing pages in the book, though I did not call attention to it on p. 49. I would not expect his view to have any dominant or frequent place in the Gospel Advocate, though Lipscomb printed Silena Holman’s advocacy for a similar position in the 1880s-1910s. The years from the late 1880s to the 1920s were filled with articles about women, church, and society. A variety of views are represented in queries, articles, and responses. Lipscomb even once commented that he had received so many inquiries and so often that he could only occasionally comment on the subject since it had already been discussed so often in previous articles. For example, the “Woman Question” was a “difficult question to settle. It is repeated almost every week” (Gospel Advocate, January 19, 1911, p. 78). During those years, the editors and staff writers of the Gospel Advocate, as I make clear in the book, opposed the audible and visible leadership of women in the public assembly.

I think Steve’s critique has the most weight with respect to the interpretation of Lipscomb’s 1876 article in the Gospel Advocate. I remember mulling over that article for close to a whole day in my research. I thought about leaving it out totally and perhaps I should have. It is subject to diverse interpretation, though I think my understanding is a credible one. What struck me in the article, however, is that when Lipscomb refers to the worship and work of the church in which every member (inclusive of male and female) is to participate it included not only  ministering to the sick but also reading verses and not only reporting someone as needing teaching but also praying. At the same, as I note in the book, Lipscomb did not believe women should be official leaders in the church or speak authoritatively in the assembly. In my opinion, in 1876, Lipscomb was not fully convinced about the private/public distinction he would stress in the 1880s-1910s. But I may be wrong about that.

While Steve’s critique focused on pages 48-49, my main intent was to stress how the years from 1888 to 1938 reflected a turbulent time of discussion within churches of Christ. [I chose 1888 because that was Silena Holman’s first engagement on the topic and 1938 because of the publication of Nichol’s book in that year.] I make no claim that the majority of churches of Christ favored or practiced the limited participation of women in the assembly. However, I do make a case that a significant segment of churches of Christ did. This included Sommer’s circle of influence north of the Ohio where 10% of churches of Christ lived in 1906. There were also parts of Texas where it was not totally foreign for women to pray audibly and exhort in the assembly. There were scattered advocates throughout the south as well (including people like Silena Holman).

A series of articles by Mrs. H. L. Knight of Unity, Maine, illustrates how movement sometimes took place among some in the 1900-1910s. In 1907 her congregation hosted John T. Lewis (who returned several times to the area), and later they would host T. B. Larimore. She lived in the orbit of the Gospel Advocate and churches of Christ. She wrote six articles in the 1911 Gospel Advocate (July 20 & 27, August 3, 10, 17, & 24) describing her struggle with whether women have the privilege of “individual” speaking in the public assembly. She practiced and advocated “individual” speaking for several years, was “tossed” about for eight years, but adopted a different stance within the past “two” years with a peaceful conscience. In her fifth article she stated: “It is made evident that both sides have convincing arguments to sustain them, and a person might with reason be as honest in contending for one side as the other; the arguments on one side seem to be as firm a foundation upon which to stand as those on the other side, and one might perhaps find as secure a foundation in the arguments of one side as the other” (August 17, 1911, p. 899).

For herself, though she recognized the difficulty and struggle in thinking about the subject, she concluded women should only participate in “congregational speaking,” not “individual speaking,” in the assembly. But her larger concern was “Christian Unity” (cf. Gospel Advocate 30, 1909, 1660-1), and she applied it to this question. She decided unity is based on the “safe side” (August 24, 1911, 931) as we follow commands and examples in the New Testament. In other words, be safe and follow the blueprint. This approach to unity is what distinguished churches of Christ from denominational bodies, according to Knight.

This became a dominant argument for the exclusion of female voices from leadership in the assembly. When asked questions about women teaching, Bible classes, and “woman’s work in the church,” John T. Hinds, for example, in the 1930 Gospel Advocate (p. 1223), wrote, “it is always better to err on the side of safety.”

A brief exchange between John Straiton (Firm Foundation, Aug. 14), G. C. Brewer (Gospel Advocate, Oct. 25), and John T. Lewis (Gospel Advocate, Nov. 15) in 1934 illustrates the move toward a greater (perhaps more rigid) uniformity. Straiton noted Moses Lard’s advocacy of audible prayers by women in the January 1868 Lard’s Quarterly, which had been published by B. C. Goodpasture in the July 1934 issue of the Gospel Advocate. Brewer recalled how in his past experience, though not in his present, women prayed in sentence prayers and sometimes “shouted” in the assemblies, but Lewis said that was not his experience. Brewer suggested the church should be willing to “survey our ground and see if the churches have been educated in the wrong direction.” Lewis thought it was dangerous to do so when Scripture is so clear. This exchange reflects a dynamic toward uniformity but with some memory of diverse past practices. The uniformity, however, was fast congealing and some thought they had arrived at and were maintaining solid apostolic ground.

Another example of diversity is found in the Firm Foundation, though there was agreement on the silence of women in the formal Sunday public assembly. For example, in 1933-1934, J. Luther Dabney (Nov, 28, 1933 and January 30, 1934) and J. D. Malephurs (January 16 and April 10, 1934) exchanged several articles. While both agreed that when the whole church was gathered, women should be silent, Dabney believed women may teach and preach in other settings even with men present. His particular interest was in “young people’s meetings” where he encouraged girls to pray and make speeches as part of the gathering. “It is much better to train our girls to prophesy and pray than to do nothing at all with them” (Nov. 28, p. 5). Malephurs, however, thought the biblical restrictions applied to all settings where men and women prayed and worshipped together, which is the understanding I advocated in the 1970s. Malephurs concluded that it is “not safe to have girls do anything in a training class that they are forbidden to do before” the church. “My girls,” he wrote, “are not developed to lead prayers and make speeches before boys, for Paul forbids them to make use of such training in the church” (April 10, p. 5). This is an example of the sort of discussions that were happening in the 1930s.

C. R. Nichol’s 1938 God’s Woman, which defended limited participation, might have been the last gasp of limited participation among churches of Christ. His book reflects, however, practices in his own Texas world and a defense of them.

Nevertheless, women were effectively silenced by at least the 1940s. F. W. Smith, the respected long-term minister (36 years) of what is now the 4th Avenue congregation in Franklin, Tennessee and an esteemed writer for the Gospel Advocate, illustrates the sort of decision that was made (Gospel Advocate, 1929, 778-9; emphases are his).

“To what extent a Christian woman has the right to participate in public worship has never appeared as clear to me as I could wish, and for that reason I feel unable to deal with the question. . . I conclude, therefore, not dogmatically, but to be on the safe side, that since the word of God does not clearly and explicitly inform us that it would be Scriptural for a woman to lead the prayer in the assembly of the saints, it would be best to conform to the custom in this respect of the ‘loyal’ churches.”

Safe and loyal would become the watchwords of churches of Christ on this question as well as others. Smith reflects something of a transition in the making among conservatives. Sommer’s position, though largely forgotten, died the death of marginalization as southern churches of Christ (under the influence of the Gospel Advocate primarily) overwhelmed them in number, influence, and institutional power (e.g., colleges and papers).  In the context of the loss of frontier revivalism, the Christian Church division, opposition to cultural movements (suffrage, temperance, and “New Woman”), and the marginalization of the Sommer tradition, by the mid-20th century churches of Christ emerged as a prime example of a Christian tradition that excluded women from all audible and visible leadership in the assembly. Interestingly, they emerged as such at the same time other traditions were becoming more inclusive.

I am grateful for Steve’s work in the sources. His acquaintance with them and his intent to double-check my citations is highly commendable. Thanks, Steve. I appreciate the commendation of the book despite its weaknesses.

Peace, my friend.

Response to Renew’s Review (Part 2) of “Women Serving God”

August 16, 2020

I am delighted to continue the conversation Renew began when they started a multi-blog review of my book Women Serving God. Their first offering focused on hermeneutics (my response is here), and this second part focuses on 1 Corinthians 11. The review is almost 7000 words long (mine about 5000). Rick Oster and a document created by Rick and others (including Rodney Plunket, also a friend over many years) for the White Station Church of Christ in Memphis, Tennessee, are the primary resources for this installment.

Rick and I have been colleagues, co-workers, co-teachers in Europe, and friends for almost thirty years. I deeply value and appreciate our friendship. I also appreciate the detailed attention he gives to 1 Corinthians 11, especially the function of head coverings in ancient Roman culture. There are few exegetes I trust more than Rick, and whatever he says deserves careful consideration.

Rick and I were fellow faculty members at Harding Graduate School of Religion (now Harding School of Theology) from 1991-2000. I audited his course on 1 Corinthians and devoured his commentary on 1 Corinthians in the College Press Series. I am quite familiar with his perspectives on 1 Corinthians 11 & 14 from the commentary, his ground-breaking 1988 New Testament Studies article about Roman head coverings, and conversations as well as classroom discussions. I cherish those experiences and our friendship.

I am surprised to hear, however, that 1 Corinthians 11 is not a difficult text. I understand that Rick has a settled conviction about it, but it has been difficult since the second century with divergent understandings about whether it is hair or artificial coverings, the meaning of kephalē (head), and—in contrast to Rick and myself—how the church practiced this text by forbidding women to participate in assemblies. Church history, including the last 100 years, tells us this is a difficult text (see Brown’s paper for a brief history of interpretation).


Where we agree . . .

  • Whatever headship means, women audibly and visibly prayed and prophesied in the Corinthian assembly described in 1 Corinthians 11-14, which supports, at the very least, a “limited participation” perspective or Renew’s soft complementarianism.
  • Paul roots his understanding in the theological reality of headship, which coheres with God’s creation of man and woman in Genesis 1-2.

Where we differ . . .

  • Renew understands headship as a function of male authority (which the covering supposedly symbolizes) while I think “headship” is more related to source of life, origin, kinship, and intimate connection or relation while tentatively recognizing the covering as a matter of sexual propriety and the honor of women as well as their “heads.” (Even if the covering symbolizes male authority, 1 Corinthians 11 does not exclude women from leading in prayer and prophecy in the assembly on that basis.)
  • Renew believes there are headship functions in the assembly that exclude the participation of women while I don’t see any evidence for that exclusion, especially in 1 Corinthians 11 (which is the chapter under review).

What is irrelevant to the purposes of my book . . .

  • The precise nature of the covering—whether hair or artificial, whether more Roman, Greek, Jewish, or otherwise—is irrelevant to how this text fundamentally supports, at the very least, the “limited participation” of women in Christian assemblies.

A Misunderstanding

Everything is cultural. I affirm that in my book, which is part of the point in saying there are no contextless, timeless propositions in Scripture. Every text is situated, and, especially in the case of the epistles (as Rick rightly notes), occasional.  I’m not sure where I say in the book (my book is being reviewed, the statement is put in quotation marks, and the heading names my understanding as something with which Rick disagrees), “Well, this is just something that’s temporal and cultural, and this over here is eternal because it’s not connected to anything situational in the letter.” I am truly scratching my head. This is not my view. I can’t identify anything in my book that would even approximate such a statement.

The counter to the above statement placed in quotes is that we must read the text closely, seek valid “historical reconstructions,” and interpret the meaning of the text. I totally agree, and Rick’s example of the “holy kiss” is a good one.

I think historical reconstructions are important tools. They are quite credible at times, and they help make sense of a text. Rick is a trustworthy guide in these reconstructions. At the same time, they are reconstructions. This entails a collection of archaeological artifacts and ancient texts being construed (interpreted) in a particular way in order to provide the basis for a reconstruction of an event or a ritual that is not fully or explicitly described in the text itself. There is significant room for missteps in such historical reasoning. While I highly value reconstructions because they often provide tremendously helpful insights, they themselves necessarily involve several levels of complex interpretation. It is not a firm place to stand if the reconstruction is the explicit ground upon which a theological point is made or understood. Nevertheless, I am an advocate for the sort of historical work Rick does, and I have learned much from him over the years.

On Veils

Much of Rick’s response explains his understanding of Roman head-coverings in Roman cultic worship. In my book, I make no sustained argument about whether Paul is describing artificial coverings or hair. Both views, even from the earliest centuries, have been defended by various authors. To me, it is immaterial for my advocation of, at least, “limited participation” by women at Corinth. Whether it is an artificial covering or the hair does not affect the conclusion that women participated audibly and visibly in the Corinthian assemblies.

I realize it is important for Rick for at least two reasons.  First, the Roman practice is about leadership. Those who led Roman cultic worship covered their heads, both men and women. As Rick has demonstrated and others have seconded (Massey, “Veiling Among Men in Roman Corinth,” Journal of Biblical Literature [2018] 501-517), Roman men (and women) covered their heads when they led their cultic worship.

Second, Paul wants to make a gender distinction based on “biblical doctrine of headship.” In other words, men pray and prophesy uncovered (contrary to Roman practice) and women pray and prophesy covered (in conformity to Roman practice) in order to symbolize a gender distinction that is rooted in male authority (male headship). Symbolizing male authority is not part of the Roman practice, but Paul—if I understand Rick correctly—is adjusting the meaning of the covering so that gender distinctions are evident in accordance with a “biblical doctrine of headship.” Consequently, the woman’s covering serves “to express submission to men just as Christ does to God.”

Rick’s precise historical reconstruction is a minority view in scholarship, though he has illuminated the Roman practices that many now acknowledge. Yet, most see a wider cultural backdrop for 1 Corinthians 11 than Rick does. I think his application of Roman practices has merit myself, and that is why I mentioned Rick’s understanding of the covering as a sign of piety in my book (though I did not go on to say, as I should have, that Rick also believes it is, for Paul, a symbol of male authority—my apologies, dear friend).

Rick is clearly committed to this historical reconstruction, and he has substantial reasons for that commitment. However, there is a significant amount of scholarship that places this in a wider frame. The covering is not simply about Roman worship practices, although those Roman practices are part of the equation in some way. Rather, it was generally understood within Greco-Roman culture that uncovered long flowing hair that was not put up on the head signaled sexual availability, impropriety, or impiety. I reference the sources in the book, particularly Winter (Roman Wives, Roman Women) among others. For example, Winter—based on texts and archaeological evidence—wrote (Kindle location 968): “Therefore, it can be confidently concluded that the veiled head was the symbol of the modesty and chastity expected of a married woman.”

The fact that Roman men wore a covering in their cultic activities reflects their piety at pagan altars; it was not about sexual impropriety. Roman woman also covered their heads, when they led, at Roman altars, which was also about piety. However, as Westfall (Paul and Gender) demonstrates, the wearing of coverings by women in other cultures was a matter of sexual protection and integrity. Rick assumes the Corinthian assembly is only concerned with Roman practices because, in part, it was a Roman colony and Paul is explicitly describing leadership functions in the assembly. That may be, but I don’t think anyone knows that with any certainty and the practices of other cultures, as Rick notes, were diverse. There is little reason to think that the practices of other cultures were not in the mix as well. I don’t think we can assume that the Corinthian assembly was thoroughly and exclusively an arena for Roman practices. There is too much mix in the culture to restrict this to Roman practices only. It may be that Paul is seeking to sort out a complex mix of cultural practices gathered in the Corinthian assemblies. And, as Rick argues, Paul sorts it out in a way that is not Roman and introduces (for Romans, at least) gender distinctions not present in their own worship practices.

It is difficult, it seems to me, to assess what Paul is saying about the covering, its cultural setting, and its meaning. I lean toward the certainty that there is no certainty about the practice, meaning, and implications of the covering in 1 Corinthians, given the mix of Roman, Greek, Jewish and other cultures in Corinth. The situation is complex, and we only have these few words from Paul to clarify it for us. Clarity, it seems to me, is elusive.

In any event, and this is the most important point in this section, the precise nature of the head covering is ultimately immaterial to the point in my book, which focuses on the participation of women in the Corinthian assembly. On that point, there is common ground between Renew and myself.

Common Ground

Our common ground is quite significant. In substance, we agree.

Renew, Rick, and I agree that women audibly and visibly prayed and prophesied in the Corinthian assemblies. They served as leaders (Renew affirms this language in their conclusion) in the assembly while at the same time honoring their heads (whatever that may mean). Rick is quite explicit about this leadership because these are the women who covered their heads in the Roman cults, and Paul wants to continue that practice for women who lead in prayer and prophecy. This is why I moved from “no participation” to “limited participation” in my own journey. When I got to know Rick and came to some understanding of his position, my advocacy for “limited participation” was confirmed.  I thank Rick for the way he contributed to my own story

We also agree that Paul is talking about men and women in general rather than specifically husbands and wives. I did not make a sustained argument about that as Rick does in the review, but I agree with him. At the same time, this is part of the difficulty of the text—there are legitimate reasons for thinking Paul is only talking about husbands and wives. I don’t think we can say definitively. Nevertheless, I agree with Rick on this one.

We also agree that the assembly of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is the same as the assembly of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. In fact, we agree that 1 Corinthians 11-14 as a whole is discussing the practices of the same Corinthian assembly.

On Headship

Rick believes a “straightforward reading of the text” reveals that kephalē (head) “means authority.” According to Rick, Paul intentionally changed the Roman practice to conform to what Rick calls “a biblical doctrine of headship,” which entails some kind of gender distinction. For Rick, this gender distinction is about authority because in 1 Corinthians 11:3 “head” means “authority.” Yet, it is possible this gender distinction is about something else if “head” does not mean “authority.”

I make no sustained argument in the book about the meaning of kephalē. My point is, and I say this several times, that even if “head” means “authority,” women still participated in ways that led the assembly in Corinth. That is my major interest in Part 3, and it is a point upon which Renew, Rick, and I agree. Whatever kephalē means (even if it means authority or rank), it does not prohibit the audible and visible leadership of women through praying and prophesying in the assembly. In fact, women, when covered, actually honor their heads as they pray and prophesy in the assembly. Renew agrees.

Nevertheless, because the review stresses that male authority is rooted in a proper understanding of kephalē and suggests this is the main reason Paul institutes gender distinctions for the head-covering contrary to Roman worship practices, I digress to say a few words beyond anything I said in the book.

The fundamental problem with the English translation of “head” is that it is a literal translation of kephalē. Typically, that is not a problem at all. However, in this case, Paul is using the word metaphorically. He is not referring to the literal “head” but is using a figure of speech to say something about the relationship one sustains to the other (God to Christ, Christ to man, man to woman, 1 Corinthians 11:3). Translating it literally is a problem because the English word “head” has prominent meanings that do not belong prominently to the Greek word kephalē. While “authority” is one of the potential metaphorical meanings of the word, it is not a dominant one in classical Greek. [I recognize that the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, of course. This point is a background point.] Consequently, the association English readers attach to the word “head” are not immediately appropriate for what kephalē potentially intends as a metaphor in Greek culture. Another metaphorical meaning for kephalē is “source of life” or “origin.”

Rick thinks translating kephalē as “source” (or origin/relation) creates a Christological problem. The Trinitarian theologians of the fourth and fifth centuries, however, did not think so. They read “head” here as source or origin/relation. Therefore, it is not some kind modern or agenda-laden “special pleading.” It is, in fact, classic Nicene Trinitarian theology.

Here is an example from Cyril of Alexandria (To Arcadia,; quoted by Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ, 136):  “The source [archē] of man is the Creator God. Thus we say that the kephalē of every man is Christ, because he was excellently made through him. And the kephalē of woman is man, because she was taken from his flesh. Likewise, the kephalē of Christ is God, because He is from Him according to nature.”

Another example is Ambrosiaster (probably from the late fourth century; cited by Payne, 137): “God is the head of Christ because he begat him; Christ is the head of the man because he created him, and the man is the head of the woman because she was taken from his side.”

Another example is Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, the leader of the Greek Church (from Payne, 137): “For Christ is the head [kephalē] of us who of us who believe . . . But the head [kephalē] of Christ is the Father, as procreator [gennētēs] and progenitor [proboleus] and of like substance with him. And the head [kephalē] of the woman is the man because he is her procreator [gennētēs] and progenitor [proboleus] and of like substance with him.”

According to Nicene theology, the Father is the source of the Son through an eternal relationship. Ancient Trinitarian theologians called this “order” (taxis) within the immanent Trinity (more specifically, the eternal generation of the Son). In other words, the Son is begotten from the Father, shares the same nature (homoousia) with the Father, and this eternal relationship does not include submission or authority. There is order and thus differentiation but without hierarchy or eternal submission or subordination (see the chapter by Madison Pierce, “Trinity Without Taxis?, in Trinity Without Hierarchy).

Many complementarians reject the Trinity argument for complementarian gender relations, and many have recently abandoned that position. Even the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) discourages that argument. Denny Burk, the President of CBMW, now rejects the argument that subordination is part of the inner (immanent) life of the Trinity except as part of the decision to incarnate in the covenant of redemption. The works of the egalitarian Kevin Giles (Trinity and Subordinationism) and the complementarian Fred Sanders (The Triune God; see his blog piece here) have clarified this in contemporary gender discussions among Evangelicals (Giles and Sanders had a two hour discussion on this agreed point here). For a history of this discussion and the shifts or clarifications taking place within soft complementarianism, see Kevin Giles, The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity.

If, however, one reads “Christ” as the one who became flesh as a human being, “source” is still an appropriate meaning because the Father sends the Son (Christ) into the world to be born of woman. In this sense, as a human being representing all humanity, Christ (the resurrected one) is submissive to the Father, including the eschatological act of turning the kingdom over to the Father. The Nicene Trinitarians recognized this (e.g., Gregory of Nyssa among others). Moreover, it is important to remember the incarnate one is also God, and when Christ turns the kingdom over to the Father, it is so that “God may be all in all,” which includes the Son rather than excluding the Son as part of the divine, eternal reign.

Rick’s two Christological objections against the meaning of source are not substantial and are out of sync with the history of Nicene Trinitarian theology.

Unfortunately, if Rick believes there is an “eternal order” of authority and submission between God and Christ, according to 1 Corinthians 11:3 (language used in one of the questions he was asked), I find this unfortunate because this claim stands outside the Trinitarian tradition of the Christian Faith. . Recently, this has been explicitly repudiated by quite a number of complementarian theologians as deeply problematic in substance (just as it was by Chrysostom and Theodoret among others in the fourth and fifth centuries).

Understanding kephalē as authority actually creates Christological problems. Eternal subordination, due to a headship ontology, entails the view that Christ is not equal in nature or essence to God. Chrysostom (Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 3) put it this way, if “Paul had meant to speak of rule and subjection, as you say, he would not have brought forward the instance of a wife, but rather of a slave and a master” because, for Chrysostom, “rule and subjection” are not concreated but come after the Fall. According to Chysostom, “rule and subjection” are not present in Genesis 1-2.

Moreover, if we understand kephalē as “authority,” is this a claim that men have the same kind of authority over women that Christ has over men? Or, is it different in some way? Christ, it seems, has an ontological advantage over men in that Christ is divine. Do men have an ontological advantage over women that make them “heads” of women? In other words, if we read “head” as “authority over,” then this is rooted in ontology, nature, and essence. To put it another way, in this way male authority is grounded in some kind of ontological difference between men and women just as it is between Christ and man. I am convinced that the analogy of authority does not hold. Moreover, it does not fit the context of 1 Corinthians, as I will argue in a moment.

But we can agree on this. 1 Corinthians 11:3 is a theological statement, and the relationship between man and woman goes back to creation. The question at stake is the meaning of Paul’s appeal to creation and his use of kephalē.

Headship As Source of Life

As I see it, to see male authority in 1 Corinthians 11 depends on (1) the meaning of the covering, (2) the meaning of kephalē, and (3) a particular understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:10 (a passive reading of exousian echein in the sense of “have a sign of authority” when it literally says, “has authority”). I don’t include 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 because its point depends on the meaning of kephalē. More on that point in a moment.

(1) The meaning of the covering is highly disputed. The evidence for the covering as symbolic of male authority is minimal; it is not the dominant understanding in the Greco-Roman world. It is not the meaning of the Roman practice itself (as Rick notes), which is about piety (which is why men covered their heads while leading). Rather, the evidence in the broader culture—as Westfall, Winter, and Payne  (who thinks the covering is the hair) among many others describe—points to the covering of the hair or putting up the hair as a matter of sexual propriety. Married women were covered because they were not sexually available for other men than her husband. She wears the veil to honor her husband, which respects the husband-wife relationship. It is a signal that other men may not look upon her as an object of their predatorial sexual desires. The covering protects the woman. There is nothing explicit in 1 Corinthians 11 that describes the covering as a function of male authority or female submission.

(2) The meaning of kephalē is also highly disputed. The lexical meaning covers a broad range from authority/rank (Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth) to source/origin (Westfall) to prominence (Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians). [For a recent history of the lexical discussion, see Johnson’s article.] Complementarians now regularly acknowledge that “source” in the sense of kinship, origin, relation, or connection is a legitimate metaphorical meaning. (See, for example, the complementarian Clauch, “God is the Head of Christ,” in One God in Three Persons, edited by Ware).

In Paul, kephalē means source in Ephesians 4:15 and Colossians 2:19 (as well other potential texts where the church is the body that receives nourishment and life from the head who is Christ). It also means authority in a sense synonymous with ruler (archēs) and lordship (kuriotētos) in Ephesians 1:21-22. The latter, however, is not Christ’s headship over the church, but over authorities and powers. Christ is the “head over all things to the church,” that is, for the sake of or for the benefit of the church.

Context, rather than lexical studies, determine the meaning of kephalē. It seems to me that 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, which provide the grounding for the meaning of kephalē, are statements about source or origin rather than authority. The sense of source is explicitly stated while the word authority is not present or any word that might give that sense. I think a “source of life” reading best fits what Paul is doing here, and the relation of “head” (God, Christ, man) to “body” (Christ, man, woman) is the relation of kinship, origin, connection, and relationship that reflects glory, respect, and honor. It is not “authority over” but deep connection; it is the sort of relation a head sustains to its body. That relation, in the Greco-Roman world, was one of nourishment and life, The head was not the ruling agent (the heart was). Rather, the head was the source of life (e.g., it was believed semen originated in the head).

(3) The meaning of “authority” (exousian) in 1 Corinthians 11:10 is significant. I address this in my book. I will only repeat the conclusion (which is shared by many exegetes), and I trust readers will take up the book to see the details. Paul says a woman “has authority.” This is the only time Paul uses the word authority in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul places that authority in the hands of women. Women “have authority.” This is not a “sign” of authority (as many render it); the word “sign” is not in the Greek text. The verb is active in voice: a woman ought to have authority over her own head. Everywhere in 1 Corinthians this phrase occurs (e.g., 9:4-5), it is active in meaning. It is the right or privilege of the one who possesses the authority. Consequently, the only explicit claim about authority in 1 Corinthians 11 is that women have authority. Nothing is explicitly said about male authority.

Paul is not thinking about male authority and grounding that authority in creation. Rather, it seems to me, Paul upholds the honor that is part of a relationship between a head to its body while recognizing and accentuating the interdependence (mutuality) that exists between head and body. One does not exist without the other, and the grounding Paul provides for male headship is found in the sense of source. Woman was created from man (there is kinship, relationality) and for the sake of man (to fill the void so that humanity might fulfill its vocation to fill the earth, subdue it, and rule it together—the shared task of men and women). Paul’s argument is a source argument rather than an authority argument. It coheres with the meaning of kephalē in this context as source or origin of life (kinship, relationship, mutuality). “Authority” is extraneous to the context in relation to men, and the only authority named in 1 Corinthians that characterizes the relationship between men and women is a shared authority in 1 Corinthians 7:4.

Further, the creation argument includes the fact that women are now the source of men by God’s procreative design. While the woman was sourced from the man, so now men are sourced from women. Women were created as the source of all men. 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 clarifies that the idea of source between men and women is a mutual one. While a woman came from a man, now men come through women. This is practically a restatement of the mutual authority between husbands and wives identified in 1 Corinthians 7:4. 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, which describes what is true “in the Lord,” reflects the mutual life of men and women in the Corinthian assembly where both men and women pray and prophesy in the assembly. This mutuality is grounded in creation, and there is no statement that grounds male authority in creation. The headship relationship is one of kinship, origin, life-source, and connection, which women honor by wearing a covering that protected women from sexual aggression and claimed sexuality integrity for themselves.

Teaching and Prophesying

According to Renew and Rick, even though women prayed and prophesied in the Corinthian assemblies, “the prohibited role is one of an authoritative teacher who guides the congregation in faith and practice” because that is a headship function. I do wonder where in Scripture that “authoritative teacher who guides the congregation in faith and practice” is identified as exclusively male because it is a headship function (however that is defined).

Of course, that is not evident in 1 Corinthians 11. No activity or gift in 1 Corinthians 11 is identified as something exclusively male. Consequently, to defend that position one has to step outside the context of 1 Corinthians. First, Renew connects us with the responsibility of the priests to teach the people. That, as far as I know, is uncontested. It is true that priests were only male in the Hebrew Bible and one of their significant functions was to teach. However, it is no longer true that priests are only male in Christ. I affirm the priesthood of all believers in the Lord.

Moreover, we might also remember that prophets taught Israel as well as priests. The writings of the prophets teach us, and they call us to obedience and we submit to what the Lord says through the prophets. That sounds like a headship-authority function to me. How does one define an authority-headship function and exclude prophets from it? This is especially true when the function of teaching is nowhere explicitly designated as a “headship” function.

Prophets are leaders in the New Testament. The prophets Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32) are called “leaders” (hegumenoi) in Acts 15:22 along with others. This is the same word that Renew notices in Hebrews 13:7, 17 that characterizes people whom the congregation follows and submits. Were not congregations to submit to prophet-leaders? Why is that not a headship-function, if “head” refers to authority?

Prophets teach when they prophesy because they strengthen, edify, console, and encourage in such a way that people learn and unbelievers are convicted (1 Corinthians 14:3, 24, 31). Many scholars recognize how prophecy and teaching “shade into each other” in the New Testament (for example, Boring, Sayings of the Risen Christ: Christian Prophecy in the Synoptic Tradition, 79).

Prophets and Teachers are identified as distinct gifts in the New Testament, to be sure. We see this in the lists of 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 (“first apostles, second prophets, third teachers”), Ephesians 4:11 (“apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers”), and Romans 12:6-7. Interestingly, the prophetic gift is always listed first in the above texts, just after the apostles in 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 and Ephesians 4:11. Prophets also offer an “exhortation” (1 Corinthians 14:3) which is exactly how Hebrews describes itself (Hebrews 13:22). Hebrews was a sermon of sorts (similar to what happened in the synagogue, Acts 13:15), and exhortation is what Scripture itself offers us (Romans 15:4). The hard distinction between teaching and prophesying is not sustainable.

Why is the role of the teacher a headship function but prophecy is not? This is the point to be demonstrated. One must demonstrate that prophecy is not a headship function while teaching is. Why is the headship function of teaching exclusively male? There is only one reason, it seems to me, to (1) make that distinction and (2) identify teaching as a headship function. This brings us back to 1 Timothy 2:12. The path of “limited participation” or soft complementarianism always ends up here. This is precisely where Renew’s position takes us—1 Timothy 2:12 is the sole text that excludes women from teaching as a function of headship. I’m fairly certain Renew will address this text more fully in a future installment.

Renew offers a new interpretation in the discussion of gender. They reinterpret the role of teacher as a headship function while the role of the prophet is not a headship function. For centuries within the history of the church, prophets were regarded as preachers, people who spoke the word of God, functioned authoritatively within the community of faith, and administered the Eucharist. The historic church regarded the function of prophecy as a form of preaching, and the distinction that “teachers” are authoritative preachers but “prophets” are only spontaneous speakers impressed by the Spirit in some way is a modern “reinterpretation” (to use the characterization with which I was charged in the first installment). It was primarily inaugurated by Grudem in order to explain the seeming contradiction between 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and 1 Timothy 2:12.

Whatever the “Ministry of the Word” is (as named in the review), and the combination of texts and inferences present in the discussion of that task, it is a headship function whereas prophecy is not, according to Renew. Moreover, none of the texts referenced to the “Ministry of the Word” (unless Acts 6:4 only describes the apostles) exclude women except one . . . 1 Timothy 2:12. That text, above all others and perhaps no other text, ultimately defines what belongs solely to “headship” in the context of the assemblies of the saints when they gather for praise and prayer. But 1 Timothy 2:12 does not even explicitly appeal to “headship.”

1 Corinthians 11 does not identify what functions or gifts only belong to headship. We know praying and prophesying are not “headship” functions. Nowhere else does Paul ever use the language of headship in relation to the exercise of gifts in the assembly. I think that rather odd, if Renew is correct in its reading of the New Testament.


Women cover their heads, not because of male authority, but because they honor their relationship to their head (source of life). Kephalē does not refer to rank or authority but to the kinship relationship the head sustains to the body which is relational, intimate, mutual, and nourishing. The head is the source and origin of life to the body, according to the ancients.

Paul appeals to creation to ground this relationality, not authority. The woman was created from the man (thus, kinship and a sense of origin), and the woman was created because of the man (the man could not accomplish the divine mission alone; he needed a powerful ally to partner with him). The head cannot function without the body.

In the Lord, this mutuality is clear—one is not without the other. They are not only interdependent, but they share the same mission, the same flesh, and the same origin. They are both from God. They share a mutual authority. One does not have authority over the other in 1 Corinthians 11. Indeed, it is mutual authority in 1 Corinthians 7:4.

In fact, the woman has her own authority which she exercises in the assembly as one gifted by God just as men are also so gifted. She does not need the covering of male authority, but she honors her head as the source of her life. Men should also honor women as the means by which they come into the world. Their authority is mutual rather than hierarchical (1 Corinthians 7:4).

Women, therefore, have their own authority to audibly and visibly pray and prophesy in the assemblies of the saints gathered for prayer and praise. They do not need male permission or the covering of male authority. They do, however, appropriately honor the source of their life just as men honor the source of theirs.